What is wet-on-wet painting?

Wet-on-wet painting is a popular painting technique whereby layers of wet paint are applied on top of one another. The technique is most commonly used in oil paintings because oil paints have a longer drying time than other paints. It also goes by the name of alla prima, which is Italian for at the first. It’s called this because it can allow you to finish a painting in a single sitting. Usually you would wait for a layer of paint to dry before painting another layer on top of it. With wet-on-wet painting, the two layers mix much more because they’re wet.

How does it work?

All this technique consists of is simply not waiting for paint to dry before you apply another layer of paint. When applying one layer on top of another, you can use your paintbrush or a painting knife to help blend the colours in the two layers together. Because of the unpredictable nature of watercolours, it’s always sensible to be cautious when mixing watercolours. You have to be prepared for the paint not to blend exactly as you’d want it to – this can sometimes happen with watercolours. Practising will help you control watercolours better so mixing becomes something you can control more easily.

When was it invented?

This painting technique has been around since oil painting was invented. Oil paint was first used sometime between the 5th and 10th centuries, experiencing a surge of popularity in the 15th century. So it’s safe to say that wet-on-wet painting has been around for at least 500 years, probably even double that. The mid-19th century wet-on-wet painting became even more popular thanks to pigments in portable tubes. These gave artists the freedom to paint outside of the studio; with painting becoming more commonplace, so did wet-on-wet painting.

Planning ahead

When using the wet-on-wet painting technique, you haven’t got that much time to think about the next stage of your painting. This is because you don’t have gaps of time when you’d usually wait for the paint to dry and think about what to do next. So before starting, you should have an idea of how you’re going to approach your painting. Have all your materials and equipment ready, bearing in mind the colours and techniques you’re going to use. Of course you can decide these things as you go along, but a bit of pre-planning makes the process much easier.

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Berkshire-based landscape artist gives a summary of wet-on-wet painting. This painting technique has been around for many centuries and consists of painting on top of wet layers, resulting in painting getting done more quickly.


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